Yes to Cape Wind

At long last, America’s first offshore wind project, Cape Wind, has secured its permits, leases and is finalizing financing.  Once turbines are erected, miles off-shore, it will begin producing most of the electricity that will supply energy to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  But Cape Wind is only the beginning.  The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced the nation’s largest, additional offshore wind lease area off the coast of Massachusetts.

This is not only great news for Massachusetts, but great news for America.   The U.S. needs to catch up with Europe and Asia in harnessing not only the energy of offshore wind power, but also the jobs that can drive our economy.  Europe alone has 58,000 people working in the offshore wind industry where 64 offshore wind farms are successfully producing clean power and helping Europe become more energy independent while reducing carbon emissions.  Here in Massachusetts the clean energy industry of wind and solar combined has already created over 80,000 new jobs, and 5,500 new small companies.  It’s the fastest growing element of our economy. 

Off-shore wind is also an important part of our diversified energy portfolio.  Massachusetts doesn’t produce coal, oil or natural gas.  We are at the end of the energy pipeline, and we have spent decades at the mercy of OPEC and ExxonMobil and their volatile energy costs.   It makes good sense for us to develop our own clean energy resources like solar, onshore wind and offshore wind.   For planning purposes, companies and consumers are eager for an energy source with predictable pricing, avoiding the spiking costs of imported fossil fuels.

While some argue the start-up costs of Cape Wind are relatively high, over its life, Cape Wind will reduce New England’s wholesale electric prices by over $4 billion according to a study by Charles River Associates.  After an extensive review, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities concluded that, “The record shows that the wind farm will tend to reduce market clearing prices…” by displacing power plants with higher marginal costs, and that “…the savings resulting from this displacement would accrue to electric customers.”

Curiously, those who complain about subsidies for clean, renewable energy sources generally tolerate the ongoing government subsidies for fossil fuel and nuclear energy for decades.  Once renewable energy facilities come into full price parity, the need for government incentives will disappear, but the clean fuel sources themselves will forever remain. Wind is constant and free.  In fact, in the Massachusetts energy market offshore wind is priced lower than solar energy, and offshore wind prices will fall as economies of scale are achieved and infrastructure is amortized.  

Offshore wind also offers the greatest reliability.  It is the most constant energy source during peak summer and winter demand hours, critical to our economy.  As a result, its energy clearly has a higher market value than other sources that provide energy during off-peak hours. 

Finally, renewable energy sources, like offshore wind, avoid the external environmental, health and climate costs of fossil fuels as they reduce prices of wholesale electric markets.  They are part of a well-designed and diversified public policy portfolio prepared to control the damage and costs of climate change.  What was the cost to New York and New Jersey from the devastation of Super Storm Sandy?  What is the cost of the increasingly violent weather across the nation… droughts, floods, mudslides, tornados, hurricanes and wildfires?  What is the cost of treating the rising epidemic of childhood asthma?  We need to address climate change now, step by step.  Offshore wind, and Cape Wind, is one part of the solution.

With the construction of Cape Wind nearing, you can soon add a visit to America’s first offshore wind farm to your vacation plans the next time you come to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.  It will be a beautiful sight, a tangible sign of a more hopeful energy and economic future for our country.

Bachrach is president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts; Mattila is the former director of Environmental Affairs for the Genzyme Corporation.

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